Dear Sheriff Darren White of Nodaway County,
I recently watched the new Netflix documentary Audrie & Daisy, which chronicled — among other alleged assaults — the aftermath of the alleged rape of Daisy Coleman in Maryville, Missouri, and I was curious about how you, as the sheriff in this case, handled the daunting task of interviewing alleged perpetrators and victims. I don’t doubt your job — to protect and serve your community — is a difficult one, especially when it comes to sensitive cases like Coleman’s.
More: Telling my 5-year-old about sexual consent was just as awful as it sounds
But, I wonder, how can you protect and serve your community when, according to your statements within Audrie & Daisy, you lack a working knowledge of what consent and what rape mean? Here’s what you said in the documentary:
“One of the parts that people have really blown out of proportion in this entire case is that everybody wants to throw the word ‘rape’ out there. It’s very popular, ‘the Maryville rape,’ ‘the Coleman rape.’ Nothing that night never, ever, of the elements of the crime, rose to the level of rape. Whether we agree with this or not, the people of that age, in the state of Missouri, can have consensual sex. Forcible compulsion is the primary component of the crime of rape.”
Missouri law would disagree with you. Here’s what Missouri considers rape in the first degree: “Sexual intercourse (penetration of a vagina by a penis, even if slight or without emission) with a person who’s incapacitated, incapable of consent, or by force.”
Coleman alleges that she could not have consented when her alleged rapist, Matthew Barnett, had sex with her in January of 2012. Barnett admitted, in an interview with you that was filmed and shown in the documentary, that he had sex with Coleman. He, along with several other boys, allegedly dropped Coleman on her front lawn in 22-degree F weather following the incident.
Sexual assault cases are notoriously challenging. It’s often a “he said, she said” situation. It’s why many survivors of sexual assault choose to remain in the shadows. It’s why a friend of mine admitted she confided her trauma to friends rather than go to the police and risk being called a liar — just as Coleman was by her onetime friends, neighbors and peers.
“As far as I can tell, the boys are the only ones who want to put this behind them and try to move on with their lives and try to make things of themselves,” you said in a statement that absolutely gutted me. Of course the boys, who received no more than a slap on the wrist (Barnett pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor child endangerment charge and was sentenced to two years of probation and a four-month suspended jail term), were able to make something of themselves. They weren’t the victims of that night.
Earlier in the documentary, you suggested that the presence of a video of Coleman’s alleged assault didn’t exist — or rather that it could have but was deleted. It’s here that I saw an upsetting bias against young women, one that made me wonder just how well you could do your job in a case like this if you truly believed:
“You know, unfortunately, you have a lot of people involved in this that are running around telling a lot of stories, you know, and without pointing fingers, it serves to benefit people’s causes by making a lot of things up that really didn’t happen and really doesn’t exist. But don’t underestimate the need for attention, especially young girls.”
That’s not all. You also found it important to announce that “girls have as much culpability in this world as boys do” when the filmmakers asked you about the case. When the filmmakers alleged that the boys in Coleman’s and in alleged second victim of that night Paige Parkhurst’s cases were guilty, you replied with a chuckle and then, “Were they?”
It’s this narrative that you reference that upsets me the most. If a person is mugged and they go and report the crime, it’s seen as a mugging. But when a woman is raped, the area becomes much more gray. Suddenly the woman’s integrity is questioned just as much as her alleged rapist’s. After all, don’t women want attention? And wouldn’t a rape trial bring that to them? It’s a disturbing belief, and one that I find more and more people in positions of power hold.
Perhaps you are a victim here too. Perhaps your words were carefully edited to fit the documentary’s upsetting narrative — that often women aren’t believed when they speak up about sexual assault. If that’s the case, I apologize.
Women deserve to be believed when they speak about their traumas — their futures are just as important as those “good boys’” so many people wanted to protect. You may not have been the one who dropped the rape charges, but if the attitude presented in Audrie & Daisy is accurate, you could become the reason fewer citizens of Nodaway County report their own sexual assaults.